Saturday, June 27, 2009
Ghost Train to the Eastern Star: On the Tracks of the Great Railway Bazaar by Paul Theroux
This is Paul Theroux's contribution to what he calls "the literature of revisitation", his own prose version of "Tintern Abbey" or "The Wild Swans at Coole", as he recreates the journey he took by train from London to central Asia in 1973 (as recounted in his bestselling book The Great Railway Bazaar). Travelling makes him feel like a ghost, he says, and "memory is a ghost train". Written in his characteristic aphoristic prose, Ghost Train is an enjoyable read, a meditation on ageing and change. The young Theroux regarded the world as his immutable playground, but this time around he encounters "an undependable world that was visibly spoiled" (although the now-famous Theroux does get to call in on Orhan Pamuk, Haruki Murakami and Arthur C Clarke). Ghost Train has an elegiac tone, as Theroux proves the truth of Heraclitus's dictum that nothing is permanent but change. Young people are boring and deluded and shallow, he concludes, whereas "only the old can really see how badly the world is ageing and all that we've lost".